Greece is on everyones lips at the moment, today more so than ever, thanks the #Greferendum. According to The Guardian’s stats the result is set for a ‘decisive rejection of harsh bailout terms’ and are currently touting a 61.61% ‘No’ Vote. Where as Greece used to be only aligned with idyllic island hopping, donkeys and fat juicy olives (it was in the 90’s when i was there AMD in Meryl Streep’s Mama Mia) it’s now more associated with money – or total and utter lack of money. It makes Rachel Cusk’s novel ‘Outline’ a utter breath of fresh air for a country that is seemingly about to fall dramatically out of Europe.
The story and concept is simple. A woman goes to Athens to teach English and engages with a number of people, mostly Greeks, throughout the trip, for none of whom the financial crisis is painted as a priority. Not only is it an my opinion (one that is reassuringly and obviously shared by those behind The Folio Prize, The Goldsmiths Prize and the Booker) beautiful, it’s also quite beautiful to see Greeks and Greece not shrouded by a cape of financial gloom; but actually living lives.
Given the first chapter Cusk could have easily penned a narrative of struggling impoverishment and general woe; for some of the characters this is a theme, but then it is for many non Greeks as well. it looks at the almost mundane and utter normalcy of Greek people; their complicated love lives, friendships, desires, attitudes and of almond cakes.
To be fair it’s the almond cakes that really made me smile. Something which I’m not sure any news on Greece has allowed me to do recently (apart from the weather, and blurred memories of Santorini)
Whilst you can’t take this for fact; I don’t know the background to the story nor Cusk’s experience. But just the concept and publication time seems to beautifully fitting, and almost a reminder that whilst politics and indeed money is crucially important – that doesn’t necessarily paint the only picture of Greece; Outline does at least provide, if only, a fictional reprieve. Because the reality probably could be that some Greeks may well still be eating almond cakes, having dreams about menstrual blood and worrying about their children.
You can find out more about Rachel Cusk here.